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The Difference Between Psychological, Physiological Dependence and Addiction

It’s a condition that sometimes pops up after the symptoms of physical withdrawal have subsided. These terms can be confusing but, in fact, they are both parts of the physiology of addiction. Scientists are increasingly understanding the links between brain chemicals, hormonal triggers, the nervous system, and consciousness. Separating the body and mind when treating drug dependence would be counterproductive. The addiction impacts the whole person, so the person needs healing in all aspects. Physical dependence describes changes to the body that could be measured in a medical lab test, as a result of addiction.

what is physiological dependence

Seizures, rapid heart rate, and measurable changes to serotonin or endorphin levels might be symptoms of physical dependence. Psychological dependence traditionally refers to the behavioral decisions, emotional triggers, and other feelings and mental health factors which fuel addiction or result from it. Depression, anxiety, or risk-taking behaviors might be part of this category. Many drugs of abuse are described as producing both physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation and fostering both forms of dependence. Examples of withdrawal symptoms include hand tremors, gastrointestinal issues, depression, and anxiety.

Example Answers for Addiction: A Level Psychology, Paper 3, June 2019 (AQA)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are offered in many addiction treatment centers. They may be conducted in a group or individual setting at times. A patient’s appearance can indicate this; they might look disheveled and smell. However, not every person with a psychological disorder looks like they have one. So, self-reports help medical professionals at addiction treatment facilities diagnose a psychological dependence.

what is physiological dependence

When analyzing whether or not legal issues caused by substance abuse is a psychological dependency versus a physical dependency, evidence suggests it is a symptom of psychological dependency. They need to do something illegal to get the substance of choice is a psychological dependence of that substance. The inability to stop using drugs even after health problems arise is another symptom of psychological dependency versus physical dependency.


Drug and alcohol addictions impact the reward center of the brain, and it can take time for chemicals to rebalance. Addiction is characterized by psychological dependence and implies compulsion to use a substance for its psychological effect. Persons who have psychological dependence are likely to have physical dependence. However, physical dependence without psychological dependence does not indicate addiction. Fear of addiction is an important cause of underprescription of opioids for analgesia (Hill 1993).

The best approach typically involves working with a professional to either gradually taper off use or stop use altogether while under supervision to manage withdrawal symptoms. We strive to make every patient that walks into our office feel comfortable and genuinely welcome. We listen instead of label; if you’re physiologically dependent or have a substance use disorder, we’ll work with you. Every single patient we approve gets a customized treatment plan that matches their lifestyle and their needs — we even offer telemedicine options. Substance use disorder (the medical term for drug addiction) involves psychological aspects and changes to the body’s processes.

Withdrawal Stages

This does not mean the patient has a substance use disorder — it just means they need medication to have a higher quality of life. But the ICD has yet to catch up and since American billing systems and other records often rely on ICD, this conflation continues to cause problems both in the United States and rest of the world. There is no justification for keeping this misleading term in light of what we now know about the nature of addiction.

Khary Rigg helped draft the manuscript, revised it critically for intellectual content, and approved the final published version. Sarah Wakeman revised the manuscript for intellectual content and approved the final published version. All authors agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work. Such confusion can also contribute to a reluctance among prescribers to treat pain conditions among individuals on opioid agonist treatment. Refusing to believe there is an addiction problem is another social addict symptom.

Your options now involve continuing to use, talking with your doctor to change your medication, or choosing an addiction treatment program. Did you know that there are many stages that lead up to addiction? We all heard in school that all it takes is one time, and while that can be correct, it is often a fear tactic. In truth, addiction doesn’t happen overnight and it rarely happens if you take an opioid once. Most people first go through physiological dependence, and psychological dependence before they become a true addiction is formed.

  • Improved assessment and rational pain management should help to eliminate this problem.
  • This is one reason why it’s so difficult for people with substance use disorders to quit using drugs or alcohol.
  • This can be caused by the person’s body not producing enough saliva or by them being dehydrated as a side effect of certain drugs being used.

In most cases, people addicted to drugs or alcohol will experience both types of dependency. Drug addiction treatment involves much more than treating physical dependence. Without addressing the reasons why you’ve been abusing psychological dependence on alcohol drugs or alcohol, you’re likely to relapse. Substance abuse and mental health treatment helps you identify trauma, mental health challenges, relationship struggles, and other situations that often fuel addiction.